Tony Crist and Tom Braid with son Tom
MASTER FARMER: Tom Braid (center) gathers with Tony Crist (left), who nominated him for the award, and his son Tom, who farms with him.

Tom Braid grounded in integrity, family and hard work

Durand farmer to be honored as 2018 Michigan Master Farmer.

As a young lad, Tom Braid often watched his grandfather and father work together on the farm. Both had been involved in farming accidents, causing his grandfather to lose an arm and his father a leg.

Amazed at what each could accomplish despite their handicaps, Braid says it gave him motivation.

“My grandfather could shovel more with one arm than most men with two,” he says.

That motivation has served Braid well, as he’s built up the family farm through the years, expanding acreage, implementing conservation practices, using technology to farm smarter and investing in the operation to see that it stands the test of time to be available for future generations.

For all of this, Braid of Durand is being honored as a 2018 Master Farmer. He will accept the award Feb. 1 at the Great Lakes Crop Summit in Mount Pleasant.

“He faces all challenges head-on,” says Tony Crist, who nominated him for the award and is a salesman for Pinnacle Agriculture. “No matter what the challenge, Tom has a positive attitude and meets that challenge with a desire to succeed. He’s one of the hardest working and most respected farmers I know.”

Braid now farms with his brother Ed, and their respective sons, Tom and Rob. Together they milk 265 head of dairy cows and farm 3,200 acres, which includes some of his son’s ground, to raise corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa.

Growing up, Braid was highly involved with FFA, receiving the National Farmer award, and with the Shiawassee County Fair showing cattle.

“Tom is a wealth of knowledge for other farmers to garner information from and is not afraid to help them with any questions they may have,” Crist says.

The early years
Braid always knew he wanted to farm, but after he graduated from high school in 1971, he headed off to Michigan State University and enrolled in its two-year ag tech program. However, he soon learned, “I’m really not much of a student; I missed the farm,” he says, recalling his return to the farm after one year.

In the late 1970s and into the early 1980s, the farm transitioned from Braid’s father to him. From the 1980s to the present, more than 2,000 acres, both owned and rented, were added.

The farmstead has changed a lot, as well. “You wouldn’t even recognize it as the farm that it used to be,” he says. “All of the original buildings are now gone; they have been replaced with better barns to handle livestock. We also have a nice workshop and a machinery storage shed that we didn’t have when I was younger. We’re thinking about building another barn for heifers this summer.”

Braid says they are constantly trying to evolve and keep up with the times, while looking to expand on the crop side of the operation that he and his son manage. Ed and Rob take care of all the dairy work, with help from Braid and his son when needed.

Through the years, Braid has worked extensively with the Shiawassee County Conservation District, where he has served on the board for the last 30 years. “When I came back to the farm, we had some gully erosions in some of our fields,” he says. “We have installed a lot of grass waterways, and it has made a tremendous difference in keeping the soil where it needs to be.”

The farm has been using both minimal tillage and no-till for the last 25 years. “We’ve had some problems with early emergence in the no-till ground, so we bought a high-speed disk and have been scuffing the ground with that now,” he says.

Cover crops are used to build soil fertility and to keep the soil intact. “This summer we’re going to try no-tilling a little bit into those cover crops,” Braid says.

A nutrient management program has been developed, too. “We now analyze all the manure, and we take credit for that on every acre it’s put on, reducing the amount of fertilizer needed,” Braid says. “Knowing what we are doing with the manure and utilizing those nutrients has helped us a lot.”

The farm used a waste management program through the Natural Resources Conservation Service to install a 1.1 million-gallon manure lagoon. “This allows us to store manure and apply when we want instead of having to haul daily or weekly,” he says.

Looking ahead
The farm recently bought a twin-bed spreader, allowing for variable-rate P and K across the field. “We’ve got the program now to write our own prescription for our variable-rate application, and my son puts the maps together. In the future, we want to work towards autosteer,” Braid says.

Also in the future is a new grain setup. Braid wants to grow storage from 35,000 bushels to a quarter-million. “We need room to grow, but we know it will be expensive,” he says. “The way prices are now, and given the current ag industry, we need to take baby steps to get there.”

Son Tom graduated from Lima University with a degree in diesel and ag mechanics, and came back to farm after working 10 years as a mechanic for the road commission.

Braid says it makes him proud to have his son as part of the operation and working into the business. “He’s been a big benefit to the farm,” he says.

Recent investments into the milking parlor include computer identification of cows, which is also helping to identify cows in heat and ones that may be ill.

Braid has had a lot of interest in local government. He’s served as a Shiawassee Township trustee on the board for 25 years.

“As a board, we really tried to control expenditures, make good investments that benefit the residents and save money for the future,” he says. During his time, the board increased cemetery plots. “We have one of the nicest [cemeteries] in the state of Michigan. We want to keep it that way,” he says.
Braid is humbled by the designation of Master Farmer and quickly shares the title. “We have valuable people that help us,” he says.

“Tony Crist is one of them. … So is Barb Krupp from the Pioneer Seed Dealership and Mark Watkins of Stine Seeds. And Aldermans [Case IH dealership] is quick to help walk us through what we need to do or what we need in terms of equipment and parts,” he says. “There are a lot of great people in this industry, and it would be hard for us to do what we do without them.”

Like the three legs that hold up a stool, Braid cites integrity, family and honest, hard work as pillars to a successful farming operation.

Master Farmer Profile

Name: Tom Braid

Farm: 3,200 acres (including his son’s ground) raising corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa; 265-head dairy operation

Nominator: Tony Crist, Pinnacle Agriculture salesman

Leadership: Shiawassee Township board trustee 1986-2012 and member of the Bancroft Congregational Church

Ag leadership: Shiawassee County Soil and Water Conservation Board member since 1987 and Shiawassee County Farm Bureau Board member in 2000-06

Awards: Shiawassee County Soil and Water Conservation Farmer of the Year in 1995, Shiawassee County Fair Volunteer of the Year in 2000, and Shiawassee County Fair Diamond Division for continued support in 1987

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